Friday, June 6, 2014

And now, Hillary

The former Secretary of State says that she urged President Obama to “lift or ease” the U.S. embargo against Cuba, as AP paraphrases a passage from her forthcoming memoir.

Secretary Clinton made the recommendation at the end of her time in office, arguing that the embargo is ineffectual in Cuba and harmful to U.S. relations in the Americas. In April 2012, she and President Obama attended a regional summit in Cartagena, Colombia where the entire hemisphere told the United States that Cuba will no longer be excluded from such meetings. That position was reiterated at an OAS meeting this week. The next summit takes place in Panama next year.

It is not surprising that a former U.S. official finds our policy ineffective or counterproductive and calls for it to change. That happens all the time. What’s more interesting is Secretary Clinton as a Presidential candidate calculating that the political sweet spot is to be critical of the Cuban government’s human rights practices while also questioning the value of the embargo itself.

In the frame of reference that has been used for decades, such a position poses a risk for her in the general election. But that frame of reference is worn out too. Cuban-Americans split 50-50 in the last Presidential election and Cuban Americn elites are starting to break in a new direction. The knee-jerk Republican position, to tighten the embargo and go back to the days of limiting family visits and remittances, ensures that Republican candidates compete for a shrinking and aging part of the Cuban American electorate.

Polls are a great way to measure political change, but it’s also valuable to watch how professional politicians position themselves. Charlie Crist and now Hillary Clinton have told us a lot.

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